How to Handle Diversity & Conflict in Communication Respectfully

Instructor: David White
Conflict is a natural part of our lives and can be the result of cultural or social differences. In this lesson, learn how diversity can lead to conflict and gain insight into how to respectfully resolve a conflict.

Diversity in Groups

When it comes to communication, one of the most important things to remember is that, no matter where you go, people are never all the same. This is commonly referred to as diversity, which in this context, refers to the variations in race, religious beliefs, or other aspects of culture among a body of people. For instance, the population of the United States is a single group of Americans, but that group is diverse because it's comprised of people from different races, ethnicities, and religions.

In groups of people, diversity refers to differences in, among other things, race, ethnicity, and gender.

In many ways, diversity is a good aspect of life because we are able to learn from one another and gain exposure to new things like food, art, or music. While diversity has benefits, it can also make things challenging when a difference of opinion or beliefs causes conflict.

Diversity and Conflict

For the most part, the things that make a group diverse are cultural and social differences. For example, if you worked in an office, you might have co-workers that were raised in other countries, with religious or spiritual beliefs that are different from yours or that have different beliefs about the world. This can be a great thing, but when it comes to cooperating or communicating, it can be difficult to agree on certain things.

Imagine that you're a man who works on a racially and ethnically diverse team comprised entirely of men. Deciding that your team needs to hire a new person, you begin interviewing a group of men and women for the position. Immediately, one of your teammates objects to interviewing women because in his culture women are forbidden from working. While you value each of the team members equally, you see no problem with interviewing and hiring women, which causes considerable conflict between you and your co-worker.

The beliefs of both you and your co-worker are likely things that you have learned over the course of your life and something about which you each feel strongly and are unlikely to compromise. Nevertheless, you must resolve the issue if you are to move forward and continue working together productively.

Identify the Cause of the Conflict

In many cases of conflict, our first instinct is often to uphold or defend our own beliefs about something, while attempting to persuade someone to abandon their own. This is because, when it comes to many beliefs, we generally think that we are right, and those that don't agree are wrong. This, however, is a rather unproductive way to resolve conflict because it is essentially an attempt to force someone to do something that they don't want to do, which can lead to bitterness and resentment. Instead of using force, a more respectful and beneficial approach is to use conflict resolution skills.

The first step is to acknowledge the conflict that is negatively affecting communication between you and your co-worker and allow each person to explain their perspective without interruption or argument. While you may want to complain about the other person to friends or on social media, this will likely hurt your chances of resolving the conflict. Instead, speak directly with the other person and give each other the chance to express themselves.

Having both been given the opportunity to express yourselves and be heard, neither person feels as though they are being attacked, which keeps the conflict from escalating. The next step is to identify the problem, which, in this case, is that you and your co-worker have different beliefs that are important to each of you.

When conflicts arise, the worst thing you can do is become aggressive or defensive.

Resolve the Conflict

When it comes to resolving conflicts over differing beliefs, it's important to keep in mind that different doesn't mean better or worse. By keeping an open mind and avoiding ideas about better, worse, right, or wrong, you and your co-worker can focus on how the conflict is affecting your communication and present circumstances. In this case, your conflict is preventing your team from working cooperatively and from growing and becoming more productive.

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